I've never given serendipity much thought, but that's changed over the past few weeks -- and, especially, heading into tonight's NCAA title game -- as I've watched the exhilarating run of the Butler Bulldogs.
Last December, heading for the baseball winter meetings, I flew into Indianapolis a day early to meet one of my oldest and best friends for dinner. It was a Saturday, and I had checked the basketball schedule and, sure enough, Butler was playing at home. So I suggested to my buddy after dinner that we go check out Hinkle Fieldhouse.
See, my parents went to Butler. They met there. By the time I came along, they had moved to Michigan, but all these years, I've heard all sorts of things about the classic and legendary 82-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse. And, of course, I'd seen the famous scene in Hoosiers that was filmed in Hinkle a number of times. But I had never been there.
We got to Hinkle at halftime of the Valparaiso game that December evening, got inside and watched the second half. What a cool, cool place. I took in as much of the fieldhouse as the game. Which basket did Gene Hackman measure in the movie? How many times were my parents in this place all those years ago? It was like a museum come to life.
On the way out, I did some Christmas shopping, picking up a navy blue hoodie sweatshirt for my hoops-loving father (hey, he grew up in Indiana, what else would you expect?) with the Bulldog mascot and the words "Butler Basketball."
So now we come to March (well, actually, today, April). I've been hearing about this team from my father all winter. I've watched a handful of their games on television because, well, hey. It's family. I haven't seen my father this excited over something in I don't know how long. My mom's pretty excited, too. She's just keeping it together a little better.
The phone calls between me, them and my brother have been bouncing back and forth these past few weeks, especially on game days. The Kansas State game, Butler was leading the entire way until the Wildcats took the lead with about five minutes left. At that point, I'm told, my dad couldn't take it anymore. He was watching with my brother, and my dad left the house to go for a walk, he was so nervous. He came back with two minutes left and the Bulldogs had regained the lead.
An old high school varsity basketball coach, some of my dad's superstitions from those days have returned. I'm told something about even a certain pair of underwear being lucky and worn on game days. I don't know. I'm not asking too much about that.
But I do know that it's been a great run and a ton of fun. First thing I did when Butler knocked off Kansas State to secure a Final Four berth was have a Butler Final Four T-shirt overnighted to my father. Next thing I did was move Hoosiers up to the top slot in my Netflix queue.
So last Thursday night, after I got home from spring training, I made my 12-year-old daughter and my wife sit down and watch Hoosiers with me. I was pleased that my daughter enjoyed it and was touched, rather than giving me the old, "Dad, it's old" routine.
I also know that while I'm working the baseball games today, my father will be off teaching a journalism class at the nearby college he's taught at this year, and he's vowed to teach today's class in what's become his game-day garb: The Butler hoodie, the lucky T-shirt he wears under it, jeans and, hell, I don't know, I'm guessing the lucky underwear, too. Then he'll race home to get ready for the game.
I don't know if Butler will beat Duke. I do know it will be one of the greatest tournament stories ever if it happens.
Anyway, as the title game approaches, I think back over this winter, and what incredible timing to see Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time, Christmas shop for my dad there ... and then be able to share this whole tournament run with my parents and my brother.
And I know tonight, I'll veer away from baseball for a couple of hours for one of the last times until November, and the phone calls will be flying, the hearts will be pounding and one more game will shrink the miles between my family. Again.